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Isaac Demonstrates Why Political Conventions In Late August Are A Dumb Idea

As I noted yesterday, the Republican Party has decided to essentially cancel the first day of the Republican National Convention due to the threat from what is still Tropical Storm Isaac (although most forecasts expect it to be upgraded to a Cat. 1 Hurricane once it enters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.) Ironically, we woke up this morning to reports that the storm’s projected track has now shifted west and appears to be more of a threat to the Gulf Coasts of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. There’s also fairly strong indication, as reported by Brendan Loy, that New Orleans itself could end up being in Isaac’s crosshairs later in the week. If that happens, then the model projects that the storm could be a Cat. 3 storm if it stays in the Gulf long enough to reach the New Orleans area. For reference, Katrina was a Cat.2 storm when it hit New Orleans head-on in 2005. Already, the Governor of Florida has canceled his RNC-related activities for the next three days, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said that he will not be in Tampa if Isaac makes a move for his state, and I presume the same would be true of the other Gulf Coast Governors. If that happens, it would be the second convention in a row that the Governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama skipped their appearances because of a Hurricane.

Despite the fact that Isaac will apparently not be the threat to Tampa that it appeared to have the potential of being earlier this week, it does seem like the delay decided upon last night was a good idea. Under current conditions, Tampa is still expected to get heavy rain and wind tomorrow. The area where the convention is taking place is connected to the rest of , Tampa by bridges that would end up being closed in the event of heavy winds, meaning that delegates and others may end up getting stranded at the convention site. For reasons of safety alone, the decision to cancel proceedings on Monday was a no-brainer. Additionally, since the Democratic convention will only be three days itself due to Labor Day, they GOP won’t really be disadvantaged by a three-day convention instead of a four-day one.

In interviews today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said that the convention will go forward with its business on Tuesday regardless of  what happens with Isaac. However, several reporters and commentators on the morning shows did raise the question of what kind of imagery would be sending if it continued with a fully-stocked convention schedule while Isaac was pounding into the U.S. Gulf Coast. Additionally, there’s the question of whether or not news coverage of the convention will be overshadowed by news coverage of the storm, especially if it starts to look like the storm is going to make a run for New Orleans, site of a disastrous storm just seven years ago. Fortunately for the GOP, if New Orleans does2 end up being the target it likely wouldn’t be in danger until Wednesday or Thursday depending on how fast the storm moves through the Gulf. Of course, the longer the storm stays in the Gulf, the stronger it will become.

Walter Russell Mead points out that the storm could also be a test for the Obama campaign as they head into their own convention next week:

A major Gulf Coast hurricane event in the next few days, and especially one affecting New Orleans, offers the Obama administration a major opportunity and a major risk. Are we ready for a fast and effective evacuation from New Orleans this time, or will there be a repeat of the unholy fecklessness of the last response? Is FEMA ready to do a better job this time than last? How effective are the new flood defenses? What will the White House do and how is this response any better than President Bush’s?

In the event that New Orleans takes a direct hit from a major storm, the Obama administration could see a major boost — or it could be holed below the waterline. Another failure in the Gulf could set up a narrative of failure that would dog the administration right through the November election. A triumphant success, however, would significantly support the administration’s claims that government can work and that this White House is a better manager than the last one.

So there’s tests for both sides here, and the risk that both conventions could find themselves sharing the news cycle with a really big storm. Perhaps that’s why they need to reconsider this idea of holding conventions during the height of the Atlantic hurricane season:

Republicans and Democrats always jockey for convention position. They must conduct their formal nominating processes in time to meet ballot deadlines in key states, but they each want to hold their events late enough to capture attention from undecided voters who haven’t yet tuned into the campaign.

But the number of undecided voters who actually spend an evening watching the convention proceedings is incredibly small. Instead, the big speeches Mitt Romney and President Obama will give over the next two weeks will be spliced into soundbites and played in 30-second increments, which will reach more undecided voters than the speeches themselves.

Another reason to hold conventions as late as possible has also gone out the window. Under public campaign financing law, both candidates have a set amount of money to spend between the moment they officially win the nomination and Election Day. If one candidate is nominated significiantly earlier than another, they have to spread their money thinner. That hurt Sen. John Kerry in 2004, when he spent the month of August husbanding his resources instead of taking the fight to President George W. Bush on equal footing.

But that’s a concern neither side has to deal with anymore. Both Obama and Romney have opted out of the public financing system, and it’s not likely that any major party nominee will adhere to its limits unless major and substantive changes to the system occur. Instead, both Romney and Obama are planning fundraisers in September to keep up their torrid spending pace.

When it comes to money, it’s actually helpful to be nominated earlier. This cycle, an individual donor can write a $5,000 check, $2,500 for the primary election and $2,500 for the general election. Romney and Obama can’t spend the second half of that money until they formally get to the general election — that is, until they are formally nominated at a convention.

So Romney and Obama have millions of dollars from wealthy donors effectively locked up until they actually win their nominations. If they were nominated in July, they would be free to tap into that money much earlier.

When planners get around to contemplating the 2016 conventions, they would do well to consider the realities of late summer. The benefits of waiting until the last possible minute are slim; few voters are paying attention to the speeches in real time, and money considerations are effectively off the table. The risks are significant; as hurricane activity increases, as it has over the last decade, the chances of a storm hitting during a convention week and interrupting the best laid party plans increase.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1980, the Republican Convention was in mid-July while the Democratic Convention was in mid-August. In 1984, the order was reversed, with the DNC in mid-July and the RNC in mid-August. The same schedule was adhered to for the 1988 conventions and the 1992 conventions. In 1996, the schedule changed slightly with the Republican convention in mid-August and the Democratic convention starting about two weeks later. In 2000, the Republicans held their convention the first week of August, and the Democrats went in mid-August. It was in 2004 when the pattern started to change, that year the Democrats held their convention the first week of August, but the GOP didn’t start their convention until August 30th. Then, of course, four years ago, both parties pushed their convention to the very end of August.

Now, we’ve had two convention cycles in a row following the 2008 model, and on both occasions the start of the GOP Convention has been delayed due to a tropical storm. Indeed, there’s no guarantee that the Democrats will get out of this unaffected by the weather as it’s entirely possible that North Carolina could find itself dealing with the remnants of Isaac early next week, or there could be another tropical system forming that will impact the East Coast of the United States next week. Was it not foreseeable to any of these people that holding conventions in areas subject to risks of a hurricane, especially during this time of year, and then scheduling it for the time of year when the Hurricane Season was at its height might not be a very good idea? If these were July or early August conventions, storms likely wouldn’t have even been an issue but now, they are. It seems to me that going back to the way we did things in the 80s might be a good idea.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Me Me Me says:

    There are plenty of places in America where the weather is lovely in August. But the Republicans chose Florida because it is a swing state. Now, of course, anyone can get unlucky anywhere regarding the weather. However, only a group of morons would schedule a high profile media-laden event in hurricane country during hurricane season, thus highlighting their short-sightedness and stupidity when the utterly predictable comes to pass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. John Burgess says:

    From NOAA, via Wikipedia, Hurricanes by the Month, 1859-2009:

    January — April 5
    May 18
    June 80
    July 109
    August 352
    September 540
    October 314
    November 85
    December 16

    Unless we’re moving the conventions to winter, late spring seems best. That sort of gets in the way of primaries and caucuses, though.

    Now, if you want to say, “Get rid of conventions entirely,” I could go along with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. @Me Me Me:

    It isn’t just about scheduling the convention in Hurricane Country. In 2008 the GOP was 1,200 miles away from the Louisiana Gulf Coast but it was still impacted by Gustav.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. @John Burgess:

    I’d be interested in statistics for more recent years given that the last decade or show has generally indicated a pattern of a stronger hurricane season from Late August through September than in July.

    But, getting rid of the conventions wouldn’t bother me a bit

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Me Me Me: And the Democrats have chosen to hold their convention in North Carolina, also a swing state and frequent hurricane target. Maybe both should have held theirs in, say, Cleveland?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yes, Doug, as I said, anyone can get unlucky anywhere regarding the weather.

    But when you do something extremely risky when you had other, safer alternatives available to you, and your foolish gamble bites you in the ass, that isn’t bad luck. That is a public airing of your inability to plan correctly on a very basic level.

    Or, if I may be allowed to go all Lady Bracknell on you, to have one convention disrupted by a tropical storm that makes it all the way to Minne-freaking-sota may be regarded as a misfortune; to have a second convention disrupted by a hurricane when you chose to hold it during hurricane season in hurricane country seems like stupidity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @John Burgess:

    Now, if you want to say, “Get rid of conventions entirely,” I could go along with that.

    Current political conventions make me long for the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. That whole convention was off-script (or unscripted, you decide.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. JKB says:

    @Me Me Me:

    At this point, direct hurricane impact is more likely for Charlotte than Tampa. Tampa isn’t even in the 50kt wind probability cone anymore. some rain and gusty winds. But then that will only be inconvenient for the protesters/rioters and the security forces.

    Now the real risk is the new track is almost Katrina’s. That risks the serious flooding of Mississippi. And as always, the exploitation of more government malfeasance built into the levees around New Orleans. But that won’t make the news as Obama is President this time around. Current track is still better than Katrina as it has a relief to the west of the storm for the surge to flow out of as it approaches land. A bit more west though, it won’t be New Orleans that is at risk but the Mississippi coastal inundation…again.

    But it does have extra potential for federal failure. Not only is it the Labor Day holiday so DC will be evacuating for the weekend, some Wed/Thurs, but also the Dem convention next week with all those Dem appointees not wanting to be in DC to handle some disaster in fly-over country.

    Advantages are a Republican governor in LA who has direct Katrina experience and a serious fear in DC of being incompetent again so close to an election. If I was Obama, I’d issue an EO putting all leave approvals for DC based federal employees for the next 10 days on hold until a decision can be made Thursday.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. John Burgess says:

    @al-Ameda: I don’t know that I’d hold ’68 Chicago as the epitome of political theater. Theater, tutto nudo, it wins hands-down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Me Me Me says:

    @James Joyner:

    And the Democrats have chosen to hold their convention in North Carolina, also a swing state and frequent hurricane target.

    Another “both sides do it” FAIL.
    Tampa brushed or hit by a hurricane every 2.06 years.
    Ranks #19 on list of cities and islands most likely to get hit.
    http://www.hurricanecity.com/city/tampa.htm
    On the ocean. Elevation 48 feet. (Yes, you read that correctly).

    Charlotte
    200 miles inland. Elevation 750 feet.
    In its history, has been hit by exactly one hurricane and brushed by just 12 tropical storms.
    http://www.weather.com/news/riskiest-convention-cities-20120821

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  11. John Burgess says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Again through Wikipedia, I find for Florida-only hurricanes, 1977-99:

    Month Number of storms
    May — 3
    June — 11
    July — 8
    August — 17
    September — 21
    October — 14
    November — 8

    For 2000-2012 (with my adding Isaac), also for FL:

    Month Number of storms
    April — 1
    May — 2
    June — 6
    July — 8
    August — 15
    September — 17
    October – 7
    November — 2
    December — 1

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB: A

    t this point, direct hurricane impact is more likely for Charlotte than Tampa.

    Bullshit.
    http://www.weather.com/weather/hurricanecentral/tracker/2012/isaac
    Furthermore, Charlotte has been hit by exactly one hurricane in its entire history.

    Tampa isn’t even in the 50kt wind probability cone anymore. some rain and gusty winds.

    So if Tampa was a wise choice and isn’t under any threat, why is Day One cancelled?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. Rafer Janders says:

    Perhaps that’s why they need to reconsider this idea of holding conventions during the height of the Atlantic hurricane season:

    Or, simply, not holding them on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Nears as I can figure, the Midwest, the West Coast, the Southwest and Mountain States, Alaska and Hawaii aren’t all that affected by the Atlantic hurricane season…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. JKB says:

    Charlotte is set for lots of rain next week. But it is early and depends on how Isaac recurves and dissipates. I see the problem, you are looking at the label hurricane but as the people in Vermont can attest, a storm doesn’t have to still be a hurricane to reek havoc.

    Decisions have to be made early before real hard forecasts are possible. So they cancelled the first day or so. It is also, being a convention of politicians bad optics to be in party mode while people are under threat of a storm. As it is, Isaac once ashore, and if not a disaster, will be inland by Wed noonish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  15. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB:

    bad optics to be in party mode while people are under threat of a storm.

    Worse optics to plan a convention in a city that gets hit every other year during hurricane season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. @Rafer Janders:

    And I will again point out that the 2008 GOP Convention was 1,200 miles away from where Gustav made landfall and it was still impacted by the storm

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  17. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: And I will again point out that 2008 was a spectacular piece of bad luck, whereas this year is just bad planning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    And I will again point out that that was a one-off and an instance of bad luck, which can happen to anyone, whereas the present situation was entirely foreseeable. Hurricanes in August in Minnesota? Not so common. Hurricanes in August in Florida? Common as fleas on a dog.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  19. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Business and voters in Florida deciding not to vote Republican because the convention is disrupted by a hurricane, not so common

    Business and voters in Florida deciding not to vote for a party who is unwilling to hold a convention in their state due to a relatively minor risk of rain and wind, bad, common as fleas on a dog.

    People most seriously impacted by a convention held when a storm is nearby – anarchists and other protesters who hoped to occupy a park or something and throw their now sodden IEDs and other weapons. Bonus

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  20. Me Me Me says:

    Moreover, the “disruption” to the 2008 convention was by choice, not necessity. The scheduled speakers for that night were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The RNC seized on Gustaf as an excuse for cancelling them both. Nevermind that it was by then an ex-tropical storm, and never mind that its remnants did not come within 100 miles of Saint Paul.

    The weather was nice enough that they could still convene a full session with all the delegates and have them be addressed by Laura Bush and Cindy McCain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  21. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB:

    Business and voters in Florida deciding not to vote for a party who is unwilling to hold a convention in their state due to a relatively minor risk of rain and wind, bad, common as fleas on a dog.

    Wow, is that some bad logic. For starters, we aren’t yet to the point that businesses vote. Although that is probably on Mitt’s Day One agenda. Atlhough is an example of another Day One that is going to get cancelled.

    Furthermore, in our nation’s history, exactly how many times has one party or another held their convention in Florida? Ponder that question and you will see that in almost every election cycle Floridians are indeed willing to go out and vote for a party that held their convention somewhere else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Me Me Me:

    By this same — I hesitate to use the word “logic”, even when modified by the word “bad” — um, reasoning, voters in North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee should now all be voting Democratic, emotionally wounded as they are by the GOP’s decision not to hold the convention in their states.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. JKB says:

    @Me Me Me: @Rafer Janders:

    Whatever, neither of you obviously have experience living in an area with tumultuous weather. It comes, it goes, it is mostly overhyped. Canceling Monday was a bit of an over reaction to me but it was done for optics. Just like Joe Biden canceling for Monday. Not good to be seen using up police resources when there is a potential weather damage.

    On the other hand, the latest forecasts for landfall at New Orleans does not bode well for most of the top Dems attending Charlotte. The new model up the Mississippi delta right into or west of the city is the worst case scenario for the New Orleans. There’s a long straight fetch and not outlet for the surge which will be pushed right into the levees. Much worse for New Orleans than Katrina if this track holds.

    No worries Bill Clinton can keep the delegates entertained and the news coverage rolling. Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid will all be back in DC doing their day job. What was it Sarah Palin said, “A mayor is like a community organizer but with real responsibility.” Seems being President has responsibilities as well. I hope Valerie Jarrett doesn’t go on Labor Day holiday so she can tell Obama what to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  24. Clanton says:

    @al-Ameda: The only conventions I can remember were ’68 Chicago and ’64 San Francisco. The meltdown in Chicago, in my opinion, cost Hubert Humphrey the election and messed up the Democratic Party for years.
    These conventions, when weighed against the costs, disruptions, and other problems, bring little benefits to the cities that have them. Some hotels and restaurants do well, but, as in the case of Charlotte, many businesses will be closed and workers will stay home because the city will be on a total lock down that will effect traffic and other activities for miles around. Added to that are the threats from extremist groups that have everyone on edge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB:

    Whatever, neither of you obviously have experience living in an area with tumultuous weather.

    Why do you say this – do you believe there is some inverse relationship between the ability to use facts and logic and experience living in an area with tumultous weather?

    On the other hand, the latest forecasts for landfall at New Orleans does not bode well for most of the top Dems attending Charlotte.

    You really don’t understand reality, do you? There is one model that says New Orleans might get brushed. On the otherhand, landfall could be hundreds of miles to the east.

    So why would this “not bode well for most of the top Dems attending Charlotte [sic]” more than a week later?

    I know you are desperate to try to muster a response to logic-based critiques of your commentary, but do try a little harder to type something that makes sense next time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. JKB says:

    @Me Me Me:

    If you lived in hurricane territory or tornado alley or blizzard country, you’d know people don’t let the possibility of bad weather drive their planning months in advance. Might happen, might not, not worth worrying about.

    The models are moving west, the official track has Isaac going ashore just east of New Orleans, the more recent models have it going right at NO. Storm might recurve and hit the panhandle, to early to tell.

    If New Orleans is smacked however, it would not be wise for the party of government to be absent from their government posts during a disaster. The federal bureaucracy was slow to react after Katrina and would likely be slow this time, that is how bureaucrats work. While the MSM wouldn’t go after Obama like they did Bush, it would be ill-advised for him not to be seen trying to herd the cats and get government going in an emergency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  27. An Interested Party says:

    But that won’t make the news as Obama is President this time around.

    Ahh, more conservative victimhood, I see…

    What was it Sarah Palin said, “A mayor is like a community organizer but with real responsibility.”

    A pity that Palin sucked as a mayor and quit as governor, making her look far worse than the man she was trying to criticize…

    …it would be ill-advised for him not to be seen trying to herd the cats and get government going in an emergency.

    He certainly couldn’t do any worse than those from the party who hate government (well, hate everything about government except being in charge of it and growing it)…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Clanton:

    @al-Ameda: The only conventions I can remember were ’68 Chicago and ’64 San Francisco. The meltdown in Chicago, in my opinion, cost Hubert Humphrey the election and messed up the Democratic Party for years. These conventions, when weighed against the costs, disruptions, and other problems, bring little benefits to the cities that have them.

    I can’t disagree with you on the cost/benefit stuff. Like the Super Bowl, people always wildly overestimate the benefits of having a bunch of drunk fans who greatly overpaid for their tickets and their hotel rooms, in town to spend money on restaurants and the like. It is often a mirage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB:

    If you lived in hurricane territory or tornado alley or blizzard country, you’d know people don’t let the possibility of bad weather drive their planning months in advance. Might happen, might not, not worth worrying about.

    News flash: nobody plans an outdoor wedding in Minnesota in January. And no smart person plans their big quadrennial media event in Florida in August.

    Your fervent hope that Isaac will somehow disrupt the DNC more than the RNC is, frankly, deranged. It is some sort of extreme version of “both parties do it”. You think you can absolve the Republicans of the stupidity on display in having their convention in Florida during hurricane season by inventing a scenario where a week later some career bureaucrats will be involved in clean-up operations in New Orleans and therefore won’t go to Charlotte, and therefore that is just as bad has having to cancel a full day (or more) of the schedule.

    Bonkers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  30. rudderpedals says:

    Campaigns are way too long now. Conventions and primaries should be much closer to election day.

    One advantage to Tampa: Florida’s as close as Mr. Romney can get to the Caymans and his money without leaving real America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders: None of them decide Presidential elections

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Just Me says:

    Choosing Tampa was a risk, but it is looking like the hurricane is going to go elsewhere, so locale doesn’t seem to be the problem.

    The problem here will be how well having a great big 3 day party to nominate a candidate during a hurricane when people are homeless is going to look. There is also the risk that the media will opt to cover the hurricane and all but avoid covering the convention.

    One of the attacks on Bush when Katrina hit was that he was on vacation and wasn’t very on the job when things really went wrong. If this hurricane hits New Orleans during convention time or is flooded like mad, the GOP will take a “Ooo look they are partying while people are dying” hit. If there is extensive flooding, I think it might be even harder for Obama to hold much of a convention either.

    I mean what’s worse-a major disaster and a candidate with no government position having a big party or the president of the United States having a big party?

    July is still a risk but IMO less of a risk than August. I often think money and the short attention span of the electorate though are why the conventions have been pushed into late August/early September.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. G.A. says:

    It’s Obama’s fault!!!!He should have crushed more good used cars, gave more of our money to windmill and solar panel scams, created more burrocrats and regulations and taxes and got gasoline up over ten bucks a gal. so as to have DONE something about this global warming!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0